Restraining orders, under the Protection From Abuse Act portion of Pennsylvania law, abuse is defined as any of the following: 1. Attempting to, intentionally or recklessly causing bodily injury, rape, spousal sexual assault or unconsentual intercourse with or without a deadly weapon. 2. Placing another, by physical threat, in fear of imminent serious bodily injury. 3. False imprisonment. 4. Physically or sexually abusing minor children. 5. Stalking a person and placing that person in reasonable fear of bodily injury. The Act does not cover emotional, verbal or mental abuse.
Pennsylvania residents can file for a protection from abuse order (“PFA“) if the person who has or is trying to harm you: 1. is or was your spouse; 2. is or was living with you in a common-law marriage; 3. is the parent of your child; 4. is your child; 5. is your parent; 6. is your sexual intimate partner; 7. is directly related to you by blood. If the abused person is a minor, then a parent, adult household member or guardian can file on behalf of the child.
Those who are represented by Pennsylvania lawyers in any domestic relations matter (i.e. divorce, custody, support), should contact their attorney for legal advice if they desire to obtain a protection from abuse order. Those do not have a Pennsylvania lawyer representing them must appear in person at the Chester County Justice Center but should keep in mind that there is no staff on hand to provide legal advice. The PFA Coordinator will assist with filling out the necessary paperwork but may not give legal advice–one reason it is important to consult with a Pennsylvania lawyer if at all possible.
For those wishing to obtain a final protection from abuse order, a hearing will be held in front of a judge within ten days of filing the petition with the court, at which time the judge will listen to the facts of the case. In cases where a judge finds that abuse has occurred, a final protection from abuse order will be issued. The length of the order can be from one (1) to eighteen (18) months.
A Protection from Abuse Order may provide the following relief: 1. direct the alleged assailant not to abuse, threaten, harass or stalk you; 2. direct the alleged assailant to stay away from the house or apartment where you live, even if that is also the alleged assailant’s home; 3. direct the alleged assailant to stay away from your school or where you work; 4. direct the alleged assailant to refrain from harassing you or your relatives; 5. prohibit the alleged assailant from having any guns or gun permits; 6. direct the alleged assailant to pay you for losses resulting from the abuse. These could include medical bills and lost wages; 7. direct the alleged assailant to attend a batterer’s counseling program (depending on jurisdiction); 8. award you temporary custody of your children and may grant you temporary support for yourself and/or the children of the alleged assailant.
If an alleged assailant violates the PFA, you should immediately call the police and report the violation. In some situations, a police officer may arrest the alleged assailant even if he/she did not witness the abuse. Those alleged assailants charged with the contempt of a protection order can face criminal charges for the acts committed that were in violation of the order. The court will hold a hearing and may sentence an alleged assailant found guilty of contempt to prison for up to six months and/or fine them up to $1,000 under Pennsylvania law.
Various services including crisis hotlines, safe homes or shelters, legal advocacy, community education, counseling, systems intervention, and transportation are available for those who are victims of domestic violence or other forms of abuse. A domestic violence counselor may be available to help an abused person seek a protection order. Domestic violence hotlines are available 24 hours a day, and all services are confidential. For more information on restraining orders look in the blue pages of your local phone book or, alternatively, the Yellow Pages.
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